Kolchak: The Night Stalker has to be one of the most underappreciated shows in TV history, in pop culture even. There are a few reasons for this, mainly the fact that the 1974 series, which rode in on the success of the 1972 TV movie of the same name and its sequel (The Night Strangler), only ever had 20 episodes due to production woes and pesky network meddling. And yet, there’s no denying that without Kolchak, horror and mystery TV would not be what it is today.
Fifty years have now passed since the first Kolchak movie aired on ABC (on January 11th, 1972 to be exact), and author James Aquilone is putting together a new comics anthology book to mark the occasion. The book features an all-star line-up of creators eager to celebrate Carl Kolchak, an investigative journalist who was unafraid to venture into the supernatural to make sure he got his facts straight before fully submitting his story (a standard that’s deteriorated in today’s news reporting).
Kolchak: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel is a 100+ page book featuring stories from creators such as Rodney Barnes (Killadelphia), Kim Newman (Anno Dracula), Peter David (The Incredible Hulk), and Jonathan Maberry (V-Wars), Colton Worley (The Shadow), Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (Mr. Higgins Comes Home), J.K. Woodward (Star Trek), and Paul McCaffrey (Anno Dracula). It is currently in the process of being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
A special 40-page standalone comic for the Kickstarter, featuring the story “Satanic Panic ’88,” is also available as part of the campaign’s many pledge offers. It’s written by Aquilone and illustrated by Worley, and features a cover by Dan Brereton.
For those unfamiliar with the character, Kolchak is a hard-knocks/facts-first journalist with an odd sense of humor that pursues stories everyone else dismisses as plain superstitious. Problem is, those stories usually came attached to a monster or a cult that was putting people’s lives in danger, which made Kolchak a kind of vigilante reporter with an unwavering sense of justice. He was played by the legendary Darren McGavin, who elevated the character into something special while attracting a large audience to both the movies and the subsequent series.
Kolchak was created by author Jeff Rice (who has a complicated history with the rights of the character after the movies and the show’s success) and first appeared in a book titled The Kolchak Papers. ABC acquired the rights to the novel which was then adapted to the small screen by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Twilight Zone). John Llewellyn Moxie directed the movie, which achieved the highest ratings of any TV movie at the time.
X-Files creator Chris Carter has stated that Kolchak was a big influence in the creation process of his own conspiracy/horror show. In a sense, the characters of Mulder and Scully could be seen as the two halves that make up the character of Kolchak, one a facts-obsessed investigator (Scully) and the other a more open-minded personality willing to believe in the unexplained (Mulder).
The Beat corresponded with James Aquilone, the book’s editor, to talk about the new graphic novel and what has made Kolchak such an influential and fascinating character 50 years in since he debuted on television.
Ricardo Serrano: Kolchak is the kind of character that seems as if he were built for our times. What sparked the decision to put this anthology together for this time in particular?
James Aquilone: For my next Kickstarter project, I knew I wanted to do a comic book anthology and I love Kolchak. So last year, when I saw that the 50th anniversary of the first TV movie, The Night Stalker, was coming up, I thought there would be no better time to do a big Kolchak book and Kickstarter campaign. And isn’t it about time that we celebrate this awesome character? He’s so underrated, and I defy you to watch the show and not have a blast.
Serrano: Kolchak’s history is rich, despite it having a short run time as a TV show, which was based on two movies directed by Dan Curtis. There’ve been attempts at revivals and side projects (especially in terms of books, comics, and a rebooted series), but nothing has quite stuck. Do you hope this anthology can lead to a Kolchak renaissance? A renewed interest, perhaps?
Aquilone: There’s a huge Kolchak fandom out there and I think they’re waiting for something like this. We really went above and beyond with this campaign. We’re not only doing comic book stories — we’re doing prose stories, as well, that will be part of a deluxe hardcover edition. There’s already been a ton of renewed interest in Kolchak in the past few weeks as we’ve done promotion for the campaign, so I definitely think a full-blown Kolchak renaissance is on the horizon. Plus, I’m having so much fun putting this book and campaign together that I hope there are more books in the future.
Serrano: What was the process behind selecting the creative teams for the anthology? Were you looking for life-long fans or was the process more open-minded?
Aquilone: I was definitely looking for Kolchak fans, but that was easy since so many comic book creators are die-hard fans, especially Kim Newman and Rodney Barnes. They both jumped at a chance to write a Kolchak story — and how cool is it that the creators of Anno Dracula and Killadephia are doing Kolchak stories?
As far as the writer/artist teams, I wanted to pair up people who worked together before. So we have David Avallone reuniting with his Bettie Page artist Julius Ohta. Anno Dracula comic book creators Kim Newman and Paul McCaffrey did an amazing play on The Night Stalker TV movie. Rodney Barnes brought in Jonathan Marks Barravecchia, who worked on Rodney’s Elysium Gardens comic. And there’s Peter David and J.K. Woodward, who did Fallen Angel together. Plus, we have Tom Napolitano doing all the lettering. It’s a pretty amazing lineup.
Serrano: What do you think Kolchak brought to the horror genre, or the TV show mindset for that matter, that bears reminding people about? The original show has been mentioned as an inspiration for Chris Carter, the creator of the X-Files, and his footprint can be found in countless other shows of the same ilk.
Aquilone: In my opinion, Kolchak was the first TV show to ever be truly funny and truly creepy. That’s a difficult feat, and Kolchak pulled it off flawlessly. Plus, the show, as far as I know, is the first to be about a monster hunter, a la The X-Files, Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Scooby-Doo, which debuted a few years earlier than Kolchak, doesn’t count because they never actually found a monster. It was always a hoax.
Serrano: Any particular Kolchak memories that have stayed with you? Episode that you keep going back to?
Aquilone: The second TV movie, The Night Strangler, always stuck with me, especially the Seattle Underground setting. A few years ago, after reminiscing about it with my wife (who’s also a big Kolchak fan), we sought out the movie and then hit YouTube to see if there really was a city under Seattle. There is. Some day I plan to visit — and I may be wearing a straw hat and blue seersucker suit.
The Kolchack: The Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.